Savage Road

A Thriller

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Hayley Chill descends even deeper into the dangerous political web of Washington, DC, in this “twisty, electrifying thriller” (Karin Slaughter, New York Times bestselling author) and sequel to the national bestseller Deep State.

When a series of devastating cyber attacks rock the United States, Hayley Chill is tasked by the “deeper state” to track down their source. NSA analysts insist that Moscow is the culprit, but that accusation brings plenty of complications with Hayley directing the president as a double agent against the Russians. With increasing pressure on the president to steer him towards a devastating war, it’s up to Hayley to stop the mysterious computer hacker and prevent World War III–while also uncovering some shocking truths about her own life.

Magnificently crafted and perfectly timed, Savage Road “is a brilliantly plotted thriller with plenty of edge-of-the-seat moments, twists, and turns to satisfy the most ardent of fans” (Mystery & Suspense Magazine).



Ten Days Earlier

Wednesday, 8:25 a.m., Kyle Rodgers, a bespectacled black man of expanding girth, is waiting for Hayley when she walks through the office door. His coveted position as president whisperer and sounding board landed Rodgers with premium real estate on the West Wing's main floor. Richard Monroe's chaotic first year as president culminated with an attempt on his life. The wholesale purge that followed those tumultuous events spared the genial and eminently capable senior advisor. Among several outstanding attributes, Rodgers is notable in Washington for having gained his influential position without having made bones of anybody.

He is as good a boss as one can expect in the White House's pressure-cooker environment. For that indisputable fact, Hayley Chill esteems and admires Kyle Rodgers. The feelings are mutual. His office is the best run in the building, and he has his young chief of staff from West Virginia to thank for it. The secret machinations of Hayley's superiors in the deeper state—a clandestine association of former presidents and Supreme Court justices, retired directors from the intelligence community, and other discharged heavyweights of the government establishment that calls itself "Publius"—placed her in the West Wing twenty months ago as an intern. But it has been by the sheer dint of her extraordinary skills that Hayley is where she is today: fifty feet down the carpeted corridor from the Oval Office.

"Thank God you're here," Rodgers says without looking at her. "Today is going to be insane." He mixes sugar-free Red Bull with coffee at his desk, his go-to breakfast.

Hayley's meteoric rise from humble intern to the chief of staff for one of the president's key advisors generated widespread acrimony among the other West Wing staffers. The army veteran—possessing only an associate's degree from a two-year community college and an accent particular to people from the Appalachians—is widely considered by her peers to be undeserving of her fantastic success. Hayley Chill has dealt with this poisonous envy all her life and unfailingly turns it to her advantage. But the exertions of holding down two high-pressure jobs—as White House staffer and covert agent—has taken its toll. Twenty-hour workdays are the norm.

Wearing a Jones of New York knee-length, dark blue skirt, a tie-front silk blouse, and sensible shoes, she drops her knock-off tote on the couch. "What's up?"

Rodgers scans his computer screen for Monroe's daily schedule, a detailed, minute-by-minute rundown available only to West Wing staffers. "Okay. First off, we—"

"—need to get the president up to speed on the LA Times, Washington Post, and New York Times hack." Hayley read reports on her way into work. Coordinated cyberattacks hit computer servers at printing plants across the country. The nation's major newspapers managed to get the day's editions out, but only after significant delays.

"Yeah, I heard about that," Rodgers says absently, taking a sip of his energy drink concoction. Glancing toward his young chief of staff for the first time since she'd arrived, he notes Hayley's slightly haggard countenance. "What happened to you?"

She got only a few hours of sleep the night before. Hayley spent most of her Tuesday at the Library of Congress; the president's speechwriters required material for Monroe's address to workers at an auto plant in Ohio on Wednesday, and the job was tasked to Kyle Rodgers's wunderkind. A two-hour workout—six sets of a circuit of exercises that included timed pull-ups, crunches, and push-ups, followed by a twelve-mile run—followed a nine-hour stint at the library. After a quick dinner, Hayley put in several hours compiling a detailed weekly report on the president's activities for her superiors in the deeper state. Naturally, she squeezed in another workout this morning before leaving for the White House.

She disregards her boss's question. "Has there been any attribution yet?"

"Who do you think?"

"We can't always blame Russia, sir. Other players out there have the same capabilities. North Korea, for instance. Tehran."

Rodgers shrugs and turns his attention back to his computer, reading through an email to the president's chief of staff and vice president one last time before sending. He had joined Monroe's presidential campaign just before the start of the primary swing, proving indispensable in tailoring the candidate's message for early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. A veteran of numerous national and state-level campaigns, Kyle Rodgers possesses the highly desirable ability to distill a politician's incoherent and insecure ramblings into network-ready sound bites. Married to his college sweetheart and distracted dad of four-year-old twin girls, he is a pessimistic optimist. Rodgers recognizes humanity is on a collision course with its stunning idiocy. Simultaneously, he believes in the restorative powers of a competent executive branch. Bolstered by that conviction, Rodgers sets himself apart from 98 percent of the other political wonks in town mired by their jaded nihilism.

Hayley persists. "Communications working on a statement?"

"The president will continue treating these low-level, nuisance attacks on private sector institutions as a nongovernment matter," Rodgers says by rote. He checks his watch. "I'm heading up to the residence to talk to the big guy." He hurriedly loads files and briefing books into a large leather satchel. "Don't forget. The Rose Garden thing has been moved to nine forty-five."

"Shutting down the printing operations of the three national daily newspapers seems something more than a nuisance, sir." Hayley adds, with greater emphasis, "You might even call it a direct attack on the First Amendment by one of the nation's historic enemies."

Her boss doesn't seem overly concerned. "Well, if Moscow really wants our attention, they'll just have to turn off the lights at the Pentagon."

"Y'all know they can do that, don't you?" Hayley shouts after her boss as he heads out the door with his satchel. Of course, Kyle Rodgers is well aware of the capabilities of Moscow's cyber army. They match those of the United States. Soldiers at Cyber Command could turn the lights off in the entire country of Russia with a few clicks on a computer keyboard. But having that power is a far different matter from exercising it. The consensus in Washington is a cyber Mexican standoff will continue for the foreseeable future.

With a cascade of pressing concerns requiring President Richard Monroe's attention, Rodgers offers only a raised middle finger as he heads up the corridor. He thinks the world of his chief of staff but finds her to be galling as hell at times, too.

WEDNESDAY, 10:10 A.M. President Monroe strides down the West Colonnade accompanied by a navy chief in full dress uniform. The president's affinity for the Rose Garden is easy to understand. The outdoor location has been an effective tool for White House communications for decades, used as a backdrop for welcoming other world leaders, staging official ceremonies, signing significant pieces of legislation, and holding non-campaign campaign events. More so than his predecessors, Richard Monroe has deployed the French-style garden adjacent to the Oval Office as his preferred venue for presidential stagecraft. With chiseled features and a hawklike profile that wouldn't be out of place on Mount Rushmore, his looks are perfect for the iconic setting.

The president steps down from the colonnade, turns to face the one-hundred-plus invited guests—members of his cabinet, assorted dignitaries, military brass in dress uniforms—and blasts them with his trademark grin. A career soldier before winning his first and only political campaign for president of the United States, Richard Monroe led a tank charge across the sands of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. Later, as a major general and commander of the First Armored Division, he drove the tyrant Saddam Hussein from Fortress Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom. His obvious strengths, commanding presence, and unassailable integrity have been the perfect tonic for a nation torn by division and political polarization.

Everyone stands with the president's arrival, the electricity in the Rose Garden supercharged by his charismatic presence. Monroe smiles good-naturedly. This morning's event is one of the "good" ones, a time of celebration. After a wet and cold spring, the weather in the nation's capital has finally turned. Bright, warm sunshine bathes the proceedings in magnificence. The president is relaxed, and his casual attitude goes a long way to putting all in attendance—especially the US Navy warrant officer who accompanied him from the Oval Office and now stands at attention beside him—at ease. Monroe gestures with both hands. "Thank you, everyone. Please, sit."

All those assembled before the podium take their seats, while aides and staff members to either side of the garden remain standing.

"Thank you again, everyone, for coming out for today's event. It gives me enormous pleasure to be here today to honor one of America's finest and a true hero, US Navy chief Edward Ramos. The Medal of Honor is the highest award our great nation bestows on an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Chief Ramos receives this award, the Medal of Honor, for conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a Hostage Rescue Force Team Member in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom on November 9, 2012."

Generous applause washes over the president and his invited honoree. Hayley watches from the sidelines, standing next to Kyle Rodgers. She listens to the president's speech and reflects on her extraordinary journey from an impoverished childhood in West Virginia to the White House Rose Garden. The deeper state plucked her from the army's infantry ranks, trained her in covert operations, and infiltrated her into the West Wing as an intern. Hayley fully appreciates the enormity of her responsibilities.

After Monroe finishes his speech and has draped the medal around the war hero's neck, the assembled crowd remains seated while the president and Ramos turn and retreat to the West Colonnade. A trio of Secret Service agents follows at a discreet distance. Kyle Rodgers and Hayley Chill, having ducked out from the ceremony moments from its conclusion, wait near the French doors leading into the Oval Office as the president approaches with his honored guest.

Monroe exchanges small talk with Chief Ramos as they stop in front of the West Wing staffers. "Well, the weather couldn't have been better for the occasion."

The war hero is understandably stiff in the presence of his commander in chief. "Yes, Mr. President. Thank you."

"So very grateful for your service, Chief." Monroe gestures toward his top advisor. "Mr. Rodgers will show you the way out of here. Kyle?"

Hayley looks to the ground to avoid Rodgers's startled expression. He's not used to being dismissed in favor of his much more junior chief of staff.

"Yes, sir. Of course," says Rodgers. He indicates the way back up the West Colonnade. "Chief, after you."

CWO4 Edward J. Ramos and Kyle Rodgers walk off, leaving the president alone with Hayley outside the French doors that lead into the Oval Office. They remain there, rooted in place, avoiding whatever prying eyes or electronic ears might be lurking on the other side of those doors.

"What do you want?" Monroe's voice is flat and hostile. That he hates the young woman with the powder blue eyes is abruptly clear. His transformation from charismatic chief executive to an angry old man is instantaneous.

Hayley absorbs the president's aggressive malice with cool aplomb, glancing over her shoulder to ensure the president's protection detail, posted at different points on the colonnade, is out of earshot.

Turning back to Monroe, she says, "You read my message earlier. Otherwise, you wouldn't have saddled Kyle Rodgers with the task of the lowliest aide."

"I'll flag the dead drop when I go upstairs again before lunch… okay?" The man's bitterness doesn't befit his station. Hayley ignores it.

"Ask them if they know anything about the cyberattack on the newspapers' servers last night."

Monroe smolders. He cannot bear taking orders from the twenty-seven-year-old female. By all appearances, he has no choice but to do so.

"Mr. President?" Hayley prods him, desiring only one thing: his unquestioned compliance.

"I'll ask them, goddammit." His voice is a low growl of frustrated rage.

"Good. That's why you're here, sir, remember? Instead of a federal prison."

Monroe's lip curls as if he's on the verge of a bestial snarl. But he remains silent.

"Xорошо. До скорого." Hayley's Russian is flawless, spoken only with the slightest American accent. Good. Until later, then.

The president of the United States looks over his shoulder, confirming their privacy. He grudgingly says, "Bсего." Later.

Monroe turns and reenters the Oval Office, where a scrum of subservient aides meets him. Hayley Chill remains just outside the door, watching him. Inside that hallowed space, Richard Monroe is the leader of the free world, the face of the greatest democracy that humanity has ever achieved. But Hayley—and only Hayley, in these precincts—knows better. Since before her arrival at the White House as a covert agent of the deeper state she has known the truth. Richard Monroe is a Russian mole, covertly entering the US with his parents as a one-year-old and since then under orders of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Chief of Staff. Moscow's corruption of America's highest office represents the most successful operation in history until Hayley Chill flipped Richard Monroe and, as his handler, uses him to undermine Russia.

Message delivered, and anxious to get to other pressing tasks, she turns away from the door and nearly collides with a female Secret Service agent. Hayley experiences a sharp, stabbing fear. How long had the agent been standing so close behind her and the president? How much did she hear?

The expression on the woman's face is stern, even for a Secret Service agent. Her eyes are accusatory.

Stepping aside, Hayley begins improvising a response to a possible inquisition. Why is she speaking Russian with the US president?

The agent peers through the glass door, into the Oval Office, and then looks to Hayley again. Her expression softens, culminating in a friendly smile.

"It never gets old, does it?" she asks.

Hayley effortlessly masks her relief, returning the other woman's smile. "No, ma'am, it never does."

KYLE RODGERS HAD correctly predicted the day would be a difficult one. But that's a safe bet on almost any day in the Monroe White House. The president was elected on the promise of being a disrupter. The voters who turned out for Richard Monroe, of course, didn't know just how much of a destructive force his Russian handlers intend for him to be. Blunting that attack on US institutions is only one of Hayley's responsibilities. Another is turning the Russian mole Richard Monroe back on Moscow in the form of a disinformation campaign. In both cases, Hayley relied on her supervising agent with Publius, Andrew Wilde, for direction. He contacted her before five that morning with new orders regarding the night's cyberattacks on the nation's major newspapers. Even for someone as cold and relentlessly officious as Wilde, so devoid of human emotion, his manner seemed brusque. Has she done something to displease her superiors in the deeper state? Paranoia is a career hazard in both of her worlds, public and covert. One fact for certain is that the low-grade insanity of running Kyle Rodgers's office seems like a vacation in comparison to her clandestine duties for Andrew Wilde and the deeper state.

Leaving the White House complex after ten that night, she Ubers to the Darlington House, a restaurant in Dupont Circle on Twentieth Street. For forty years, the Darlington was one of Washington's legendary bars. Musical artists, including the Ramones, Bonnie Raitt, and Bruce Springsteen, wailed, thrashed, and bounced across its ancient floorboards. In 2007, new owners gave all three levels of the building a makeover. They made only a faint effort to preserve the venue's original ambiance, with electric guitars bracketed to exposed brick walls. Open mic night once a week fails to capture the magic of a bygone era.

The guy behind the bar greets her with a friendly wave.


She nods and pulls up a stool at the all-but-deserted bar.

Billy Esposito has long nurtured a thing for Hayley Chill, one that the White House staffer has deftly sidetracked. Her work for the deeper state precludes a normal life, but this simply perpetuates a long pattern of Hayley's being stubbornly single. Physical entanglements have been easy and, no doubt, she has been willing to go there in more convenient times of her life. Some of those casual affairs ended badly. Others were complete debacles. Hayley long ago made peace with the realization that she might not fulfill a man's vision of a female partner. If hindsight is twenty-twenty, then her ability to predict the inevitable failure of a possible romantic entanglement is positively uncanny. Love is for civilians. She's got a job to do.

Grabbing a bottle of tequila from the shelf behind him, Billy pours her a double.

"An hour ago, this place was packed. Think it was something I said?" He grins, hoping for a kind smile or full-fledged interaction.

"Not you, Billy. Them."

The bartender takes her polite response as an invitation to hike one foot up on the cooler behind the bar and settle in for a more extended conversation. Hayley feels her phone vibrate. Checking it, she finds a message from her drinks date canceling five minutes after their meeting time. Hayley would throttle her phone if it did any good.

"I tell you about the gig I've got next weekend? We're playing—"

She raises a hand. "You mind, Billy? Need a little downtime."

He drops his foot down and backs away with both hands raised, grinning sheepishly. "Like I said. Radioactive."

Billy retreats to the far end of the bar, leaving Hayley to her concerns about the president's hostility. Will Monroe have increasing difficulty concealing his potentially dangerous emotional outbursts? Hayley can hardly blame him. He's in a terrible situation despite being "the most powerful man on Earth." Richard Monroe is beholden to rival espionage entities simultaneously. Even Hayley has no idea what the endgame is here. These uncertainties do nothing to mollify Hayley's perennial feelings of isolation and exposure.

"Hey, there." The voice is a male. Mid- to late twenties, she surmises, keeping her gaze fixed on the Strat on the opposite wall. Friendly and assured.

"Bad timing, friend," Hayley says, without looking in that direction. "I mean, bad in a tragic, gothic kind of way."

"Guess I'm the run-toward-danger type of guy," the male voice says, not too close to her ear to be weird but not exactly fleeing for the hills, either.

Hayley slowly turns to look at him. He has an open expression and hazel eyes under an unruly mop of auburn hair. The stubble on his face suggests either a careless man or one too busy to bother shaving. The DC Fire Department T-shirt he wears isn't clean, either. An off-duty fireman is an easy guess. The "run-toward-danger" comment, then, was tongue in cheek. Funny, even. He seems harmless enough. But, as she stated, tonight is not a good night.

"Honestly, you have a better chance driving over to Arlington National Cemetery and romancing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis," Hayley says, despite feeling that particular feeling.

The fireman puts up both hands in mock surrender and moves so that one empty bar stool is between him and Hayley.

The bartender approaches. "Usual, Sam?"

Sam McGovern nods.

Hayley silently curses herself. If she didn't want human interaction, why come to a bar?

"Put it on my tab, Billy," she says. Or maybe it's just because he is so good-looking.

Both Billy and Sam are surprised by the gesture. Without further comment, the bartender draws a tall, chilled mug of Bass Ale for the firefighter, who casts a questioning look in Hayley's direction.

She fixes her gaze on the Strat but feels his eyes on her. "For the lives you saved today," says Hayley.

Billy places the beer in front of Sam, who lifts it high.

Sam says, "To the lives we save."

The bartender retrieves his bottomless mug of heavily iced diet root beer from next to the cash register and clinks it with Sam's.

MORE THAN TWO hours later, Hayley stands on the sidewalk with Sam McGovern outside Darlington House. Despite the late hour, a warm breeze wafts over them. The grin on the firefighter's face is playfully inebriated, a testament to several pints he raised to defuse a stressful day. But it's not just the alcohol. Sam vibes on Hayley in a way that he hasn't felt in a long time. The opportunity presents itself. Their initial banter, easy and jocular, begat actual conversation, words that fit together like one thousand puzzle pieces to form a picture of something real.

Hayley gives him a quizzical look. "What the hell are you thinking?"

He only laughs, at himself, in response.

"I'm not going home with you," she says.

"I don't remember inviting you."

"That smile was invitation enough." Her resolve is especially admirable given the amount of tequila consumed and regrettable history of casual intimacies.

"What's yours saying?" Sam asks, appreciating her beaming face.

Hayley realizes how rare it is for her to smile and says nothing.

"I want to see you again."

"I'm a busy girl."

"That's not a valid excuse."

"How do I get in touch with you? Dial 911?"

He laughs. "Sure. Ask for Sam."

She turns and takes a few steps toward the Prius that has just stopped at the curb, her Uber.

"I had fun," Hayley says over her shoulder, her right hand reaching for the door handle. "Thanks for cheering me up."

She climbs into the back of the Prius and pulls the door closed, leaving Sam feeling weirdly bereft. As the vehicle pulls away, however, the rear window rolls down and Hayley's face appears.

"Hayley Chill. I work at the White House. Last I checked, we're listed."

ARRIVING AT HER apartment on P Street near Logan Circle well after midnight, slightly buzzed from the tequila she consumed, Hayley discovers the door ajar. Sobering instantly, she pushes it open and sees the place is ransacked. She remains on her guard; whoever wrecked the apartment might still be inside. Keeping her back to the wall, Hayley moves quickly to the kitchen area and retrieves the biggest blade in the knife block. Checking each room and closet with the butcher's knife in hand, the White House staffer establishes she is alone in the apartment.

She picks up one of her dining chairs lying on its side and sets it upright. After retrieving her laptop from her bag, Hayley accesses the server that stores images from the surveillance cameras she placed inside the apartment for precisely this occasion. She has zero concerns that the break-in has compromised her identity as a covert agent for the deeper state. Hayley carries on her person at all times the KryptAll phone issued to her by Andrew Wilde. No other physical evidence exists tying her to Publius. But was the break-in an ordinary case of robbery, or was it counterespionage?

Locating the minicam's footage online is a trivial matter. Motion-activated, the camera's recording is time-stamped a few minutes past three that afternoon when Hayley would have been at the White House. With the camera focused on the main living area of the apartment, the single intruder enters the frame from the left. The individual is slim and average height, wearing loose-fitting dark clothing and a balaclava mask that obscures the entire head and face. Gender is impossible to establish. Stopping, the individual scans the entire living room for several seconds. After that lengthy pause, he or she approaches the camera with a purposeful stride. Hayley can now see the expandable steel baton in the individual's right hand. The intruder draws nearer to the surveillance camera and swings the baton violently forward as the footage abruptly ends.

Hayley looks up from the computer and glances toward the shelf on the opposite wall, where she wedged the matchbox-size minicam between a stack of books. She reverses the recording playback and then freezes frame on the intruder approaching the camera. There is much to suggest the break-in was something more than simple robbery. The tactical balaclava and telescoping steel baton are not the typical kit of the average meth addict, but these objects aren't absolute proof of a professional operative. Nor is the fact that the front door showed no sign of forced entry. What troubles Hayley most is how the intruder methodically scanned the room and so readily spotted the recording device, as if they knew to look for it.

The break-in indicates the possibility of a severe security breach. Suspicion of her being something more than a White House staffer is the only reason to target Hayley. Before doing anything else, including putting her place back together, the deeper state operative knows what she must do. Reaching for her KryptAll phone, she prepares in her head how best to communicate the news to Andrew Wilde.

On Sale
Jan 5, 2021
Page Count
304 pages